The Stricken Bell.
Photo by Mark Lovewell
There was a time at the Oak Bluffs Camp Ground when a bell atop Trinity Church rang the beginning of summer’s festive events, just as it would each Sunday’s call to worship. Its sound was crisp and sweet and its music sounded out over the Oak Bluffs rooftops and beyond.
 
Each summer, “Hezekiah,” as the bell is called, rang before Illumination Night’s first lantern was lit and prior to each religious event across the street at the Tabernacle. There are those who can remember. And there are those who would like to hear it again.
 
Since 1966, the bell atop the Trinity United Methodist Church has been crippled and quiet. In its place, a recording of a bell is electronically pumped through four large speakers mounted above the now-dormant bell. For those who remember the bell’s sound, the recording is a poor sub­stitute.
 
With a lack of funding to restore the bell as well as a new increase in interest, members of the church have begun a fund raising campaign for Hezekiah. Their purpose is to restore the bell back to active work by this summer.
 
The bell’s history is held dear by the church’s congregation. For some, its significance is recalled in personal history: its ringing has marked many a church wedding, belongs with memories of summer vacations and announced many Island-wide and national celebrations.
 
For Rev. Richard D. Bell, it has a part in his family history going back to before he took over as pastor in November, 1980.
His two sons, Capt. Charles K. Bell of the Coast Guard buoy tender Bit­tersweet, and Philip A. Bell of San Antonio, Texas, were both teenaged bell ringers during the summer of 1960.
 
Each Sunday and during other events at the Camp Grounds, the two were responsible for ringing the 1,500 pound bell.
 
Their mother, Mrs. Ruth Bell, remembers:
 
“My son [Philip] always said there was no sound as sweet as that bell.
 
“Philip was in the Philippines in the Air Force when the bell fell [from its yoke onto the cross timbers beneath], and he was upset about it. He learned about it through a Gazette article and a letter we’d written to him.
 
“He was a bell ringer on Illumination Night in 1959 and for the Camp Ground’s centennial celebration in 1960 with Charles,” she said. “When you’re young, you’re impressionable about how things are on the Vineyard,” she said. “And when it’s gone, it hurts. One would like to think things continue forever and ever. It was almost as if this had put an end to his pleasant memories.”
 
For Mrs. Marion Morton and Mrs. Dorothy Bunker memories go back earlier, to the days of World War II. Both were air raid wardens in charge of the Camp Ground.
 
“It sounds silly to talk about it these days,” said Mrs. Bunker. “But in those days it was very important. Each time there was a warning, they’d ring the bell.
 
And we’d have to go around the Camp Ground and make sure all the lights were out.”
 
When the war ended and word came to the Vineyard one quiet afternoon, Mrs. Morton recalls, “All the bells on the Island rang.”
 
Mr. John E. Phillips, 76, former owner of Phillips Hardware, now owned by his son, remembers Hezekiah even earlier.
 
“When World War I ended, they nearly rang the bell all day,” he said. “And I remember that quite well.”
 
The history of the bell is clearly in­scribed on its side. It reads:
 
“In memory of Hezekiah Anthony who died in Providence, Rhode Island, December 29, 1883, in the ninety-sixth year of his age, presented to the Mar­tha’s Vineyard Campmeeting by his affectionate daughter, Mrs. Sarah Ann Cook, July 26, 1888.”
 
The bell was later given to the Methodist Church when its construction was completed and the bell was installed in the belfry.
 
As for the fall and the bell’s present condition, the following is reprinted from the Aug. 5, 1966 Vineyard Gazette:
 
“. . . The offering received will go toward the replacing of the 76 year old, 1,500-pound memorial bell named Hezekiah, meaning ‘in the strength of the Lord,’ which fell from its cradle in the steeple of Trinity Methodist Church while being run for the July 24 Sunday morning service of worship. Had it not been for the large beam running below it, the bell would have come right down into the church proper. Hezekiah is used not only to call people to worship at the church, but also for all occasions during the summer at the Tabernacle.”
 
Marguerite A. Bergstrom, chairman of the restoration fund committee, said that $3,750 would be needed to replace the bell’s broken yoke and reset the bell back to working condition on a safer platform. An additional $2,000 also would be needed for exterior restoration of the belfry and weathervane.
 
While she says money has already started coming in, Miss Bergstrom hopes that those who become familiar with the bell’s plight will also con­tribute.
 
If the money is obtained soon, the completion date for the bell’s restoration is July 1, in time for the summer season.